Viet Nam

Climate change threatens to reverse Viet Nam success by dragging millions back into poverty

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Rising sea-levels, more intense typhoons, higher temperatures and increased flooding and drought threaten to drag millions of Vietnamese people back into poverty, an Oxfam report reveals today.

In the report, Viet Nam: Climate Change, Adaptation and Poor People, Oxfam shows how Viet Nam has led the way to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 but how the country, identified as among the ten most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, is set to see this success reversed unless urgent global action is taken.

The report comes ten days before the UN climate change negotiations convene at Poznan, where Oxfam is calling for rich countries to lead the way in cutting global emissions by at least 80%, and committing to funding so that poor communities like those in Viet Nam can adapt to the devastating effects of climate change.

Steve Price-Thomas, Oxfam's country director in Viet Nam said: "Viet Nam has been one of the most successful countries in lifting people away from the clutches of poverty but unless urgent global action is taken, climate change is set to push them back. Rising sea-levels, torrential rain and flooding, land salinisation and drought are already devastating people's lives and climate models show that Viet Nam can expect much worse.

"It is essential that rich countries at Poznan lead the way in tackling climate change so that poor countries like Viet Nam can better cope with its impacts and continue to prosper in a low-carbon way."

The report focuses on two provinces: Ben Tre in the south's low-lying Mekong Delta and the coastal Quang Tri further north, which is traditionally the most vulnerable to flooding in the country. People are used to living in extreme weather conditions, but all those questioned agreed that weather patterns had changed over the past 20-30 years, making it harder to make a living and survive.

In the Mekong Delta, where enough rice is produced to make Viet Nam the second biggest rice exporter in the world, some rice farmers cannot grow their crops because the water is too salty, partly as a result of climate change. Salt intrusion is hampering other crop production, making it harder for people to make a living. Typhoons have become more intense and have tracked further south so that they have become more commonplace in Ben Tre, which was once typhoon-free. Typhoon Durian in December 2006, claimed 18 lives in the province. A further 700 were injured and a total $200million-worth of damage was caused - equivalent to about two-thirds of the province's total exports in 2001-2005.

Further north in Quang Tri, unpredictable weather means farmers have less time to grow crops, and seeds can be washed away by the heavier rainfall. Livestock has also been lost to increased flooding while the hotter dry spells make it even harder for farmers to make a living.

Farmer, Ho Si Thuan, 46, who lives in Quang Tri, told Oxfam: "Twenty years ago, being a farmer seemed extremely easy as the weather was predictable. It wasn't so hot in the dry season and there was less flooding. Last year, our first crop of rice was affected by early flooding. We could only harvest 200kg, and it was poor quality so we had to feed it to the pigs. This year, it was very cold and the rice seedlings died."

Work by Oxfam to help poor communities adapt to climate change is already underway. Some farmers are using drought-resistant crops, lifeboats have been provided in some areas and people have been taught how to swim. Wooden platforms have also been installed in homes for people to escape flood levels and store food away from the rising water.

However, the financing challenge is huge for a developing country like Viet Nam. The government has set aside $750million for protection and the building of dykes between 2010 and 2020. But this figure does not take into account the impacts of climate change, which will require far more funding. A UN report concluded that the extra money needed to adapt to climate change in poor countries is beyond the capacity of most national governments (1). Outside funding assistance is required in Viet Nam, and Oxfam believes it is rich countries, who are most responsible for climate change, that should lead the way in committing to such adaptation funding.

Price-Thomas said: "Clearly, climate change is already happening and turning people's lives upside down in Viet Nam. The futures of millions of poor people in Viet Nam and around the world depend on the right decisions being taken in Poznan so that we can support people who are living - through no fault of their own - on the frontline of climate change."

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For more information, interviews, images or to see the report, contact Lucy Brinicombe, 01865 472192 / 07786 110054.

Notes to editors:

1) The UN's Human Development Report 2007/8

Viet Nam has experienced a reduction in poverty from about 58% in 1993 to 18% in 2006, pulling 34 million people above the poverty line through economic growth and sound development policies.

Despite already feeling the impacts of climate change, Viet Nam's emissions are among the lowest in the world, amounting to just 0.35% of all greenhouse gas global emissions in 2000.

Annual temperatures have risen in Viet Nam by 0.1 degrees C per decade between 1939 and 2000, and between 0.4 and 0.8 degrees C in the country's three main cities from 1991 to 2000.

Wide regional variations in rainfall have been recorded, but the annual volume has remained largely stable. However, the localised intensity and unpredictability of the rainfall has increased, causing severe floods.

There have been more droughts in the south in recent years, which have tended to last longer.

The sea level has risen between 2.5 to 3.0 centimetres per decade in the last 50 years, with regional variations. Viet Nam is one of the top two countries in the world most at risk from a one metre rise in sea level by 2100 and most at risk in East Asia.

Typhoons have become less frequent in the past 40 years but they have intensified and are tracking southwards.

El Nino / La Nina weather events have become more intense in the last 50 years, causing more typhoons, floods and droughts.